China’s attempts to emulate the ways of the West have now focused on gastronomy. The Chinese are considering a ban on the sale or consumption of dog- and cat-meat, with offenders risking fines of up to $730. While these efforts are commendable, maybe it is the West that should emulate the Far East and not vice versa, when it comes to culinary daring and inventiveness.
For example, the food in Cambodia, where I recently travelled, is renowned for being, well, a little strange. The list starts off inoffensively with the backbone of Khmer cuisine: rice with prahoc — sour, fermented fish paste. Dog-meat is only for the wealthier though dog roast on a spit can still be found at market stalls. But then there are the snacks, most of them deep-fried with generous amounts of salt and served in convenient cup-sized portions at the side of the road: locusts, crickets, cockroaches, mealworms, potato-bugs and sun-dried maggots, as well as roasted bird-wings and frogs’ legs on a stick. Certain regions have their own specialities: the town of Skuon, affectionately known as Spiderville, is famous for fried arachnids, of the furry variety. Beverages include fairly weak banana- or palm-wine (in Indonesia, interestingly, often mixed with Guinness) as well as powerful cobra-scorpion vodka, which supposedly improves virility.
Given the tragic history of Cambodia such inventiveness is understandable, but these delicacies can be justified for their culinary virtue alone. Most of the bugs taste bland but have a satisfying crunchiness, which is best appreciated with a cold beer. I would trade a packet of Walkers crisps for a cup of crickets anytime. Scorpion and spider taste rather like crabmeat, while small birds and frogs resemble poultry, if a little less succulent.
Moreover, there are powerful socio-political arguments for adopting creepy-crawly cuisine in Britain. While the financial crisis may have been insufficiently acute to warrant such a change of diet, the obesity crisis, which the government so hysterically tries to combat, certainly does. Low-calorie, low-cost insects are the answer. And as research suggests that it is cattle that are responsible for a large chunk of carbon emissions, replacing beef with spiders or frogs might help reduce Britain’s carbon footprint. Supply is not a problem: the average commuter train is reported to be infested with 1,000 cockroaches, so utilising them in the nation’s diet would be the proverbial equivalent of killing two bugs with one slipper.